Local horticulture agent Ariel Whitely: Look for signs that apples, pears are ready to harvest

Color, taste can determine ripeness

Ariel Whitely, horticulture agent for Shawnee County Research and Extension

There’s nothing quite like homegrown fruit. Unlike tomatoes and strawberries, it’s not always easy to tell when an apple or pear is ripe. 


By checking a few simple indicators, you can understand the signals your trees are giving you and pick your fruit at the right time.

When looking at apple ripeness, variety is crucial. Some varieties are harvested in July while others won’t be harvested until October.

For a few varieties, you can estimate apple ripeness from the time of the bloom: Jonathan, 135 days; Delicious, 145; Golden Delicious, 145; Winesap, 155.

Keep in mind that cooler weather will increase the number of days until your fruit is ripe.

The next indicator is apple color. Although common sense would indicate a red apple is ready to eat, that isn’t always the case.

Apples often turn red before they are mature, but there is a distinct yellow color at the top and bottom that tell you the apple is close to, if not at, maturity.

Taste is yet another, albeit more daring, way to test ripeness.

Sampling an apple or two will tell you if they have the sweetness you’re looking for, or if they have a starchy flavor and need more time.

If some apples have already fallen and have this starchy taste, store them because they may become sweeter.

While you’re tasting your apples, look at the color of the flesh.

As the apple’s starches change to sugars, the flesh should change from light green to white. Holding it up to the light may make it easier to determine what color you’re seeing.

Another color factor you can look for is the color of the seeds.

They, too, are light green at immaturity, but turn brown when the fruit ripens.

This is the least reliable of all the methods, so it should be paired with another indicator. In combination, these indicators can help discern when your apples are ready to eat.

Unlike apples, pears need to be harvested prior to ripening. If you allow your pears to ripen on the tree, they will develop grit cells and the inner flesh will become brown and soft.

Commercial growers determine the best time to harvest pears by measuring the decrease in fruit firmness as the fruit matures.

A Magness meter is used for testing and measures the pressure needed to push a 5/16-inch tip a specified distance into an individual fruit.

Home gardeners have a few less technical methods at their disposal.

First, unlike an apple’s, a pear’s skin color can be an indicator of ripeness.

With pears, you’re looking at the fruit ground color, or the “background” color of the fruit. An unripe pear will have a dark green ground color, while a ripe pear will be light green to yellowish green.

Another indication of ripeness is lifting up and gently twisting the pears while they’re still attached to the tree. If they separate easily, they are ready to be picked.

If you’ve ever seen a pear, you know it has pores all over its skin.

These are call lenticels and they will start out as greenish white, but turn brown with fruit maturity. When the pear is ready to eat, it will look like it has freckles.

A more pleasant indicator as your pear ripens off the tree is the development of its aroma.

The final way to see if your pears are ripe is the same as with the apple: Sample them.

Pears ripen in one to three weeks after harvest if held at 60 to 65 degrees. Storing at a temperature that’s too high (75 degrees and higher) will result in the fruit breaking down without ripening.

Seeds, skins, flesh and stems are all changing as fruit matures.

Paying close attention to your fruit and all the signals it’s giving you will help you harvest at the perfect time, and enjoy the peak flavor these fruits can offer.

Enjoy your late-summer harvest.

Ariel Whitely is the horticulture agent for Shawnee County Research and Extension.


— Master Gardeners will answer your lawn and garden questions from 7:30 a.m. to noon Aug. 26 at the Downtown Topeka Farmers Market, S.W. 12th and S.W. Harrison.